Voices from the Inside

Death row prisoners speak out

The American way of injustice: They call it "harmless error"

The "death penalty" has always been a worldwide concern, and it has often stirred up very heated discussions because of its involvement with the political actions of government.

How can anyone say that therefs nothing wrong with the death penalty when there are many of us who have been falsely accused, tried and wrongfully convicted of crimes that we have not committed.

When numerous crimes have been committed in a specific area or neighborhood where certain races of people or individuals may hang out, and you are picked up, then you are more likely to be charged with those crimes. The reason why you are being charged is because the individuals investigating the crimes must close the books. So they send out the uniformed officers to look for someone who fits the profile.

During the time that you are incarcerated (unless you can bail out), the arresting officers and the district attorney plan out their strategy as to how they will get a conviction in order to achieve an open-and-shut case. When you do not have money to afford an attorney and the courts have to provide you with counsel, then letfs just say that your case is already in the bag.

The surviving "victims" and so-called "witnesses" will have already been coached by the district attorney, and will be placed upon the stand to commit perjury (which is a crime), while describing the most gripping and tragic story to the court and people of the jury in order to assure a conviction.

When the court provides you with counsel, you must ask yourself: Is this person really going to stand his ground and fight to prove my innocence? Ifll answer that one for you. NO! Thatfs like Jesus asking Judus (the one who betrayed him) to represent Him in front of the Pontius Pilate. If you are naiNve enough to believe that a court-appointed attorney is going to use every available means of the law in order to keep you off death row, then Ifd suggest that you think again.

The overall rate of prejudicial error in the American capital punishment system is 68 percent. Errors that lead courts to overturn capital sentences are not mere technicalities. The three most common errors: incompetent defense lawyers (37 percent), prosecutorial misconduct, often the suppression of evidence of innocence (19 percent), and faulty instructions to jurors (20 percent). Mistaken eyewitness testimony is the major cause of wrongful convictions.

When you show discrepancies in your appeal and where you have been wronged, the courts know that theyfll have to exonerate you. So they write off that evidence as a "harmless error." Filing a writ or motion is meaningless if the court refuses to even hear the evidence.

So, there you have it. Thatfs justice, the American way.

Carlos A. Hawthorne Jr., #K-67900
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

This is my chosen path

All my life, I have wandered endlessly, with no regards for the future, no plans or desire to do anything with my life but to live selfishly, enjoying the pleasure of a drifterfs life. Until the day I found myself on Texas death row.

Even then, it took a few years before I understood the opportunity that was before me--if I chose to reach out with fingers to grab, to hold, to make a change in my life, and perhaps, help make a change, an everlasting impression in the lives of others.

Daily confined behind walls so thick that sounds of nature are elusive, all I hear are the slamming of steel on steel, the yelling of manfs despair, and the sad but forced laughter of men condemned--even on the day someone is executed. These walls do more than confine and isolate men; they break down their bodies, minds and spirits, and cause them to surrender, believing itfs better to submit to the systemfs design than to fight.

Each cage for each man is a world of his own. Over 450 men are sentenced to die. So many of those worlds consist of what many see as the inevitable. Others are filled with endless dreams. Some are plagued by the ills of insanity. Then there are the few who still cling to hope--looking beyond the concrete walls and razor wire-lined fences for a place that allows them to give voice to the cruel and inhuman conditions in which they exist, in the hope that they can create change, so, even if they arenft alive to see it, it will at least be possible for the next man.

This is the world in which I live.

What is my story? I dropped out of school in the ninth grade. I was a bright curious boy growing up, and did well in school. During my early teens, my eyes caught the glitter of the streets, and I fell in love with them--head over heels. They educated me in ways no school could. But they also continued to blind me and caused me to rebel against all that was good for me.

In the fall of 1997, at the age of 17, it all came to a head. I was arrested and charged with capital murder. And in late 2000, at the age of 20, I was sentenced to death.

My arrival on Texas death row came shortly thereafter, in early 2001.

During the years of my incarceration, I tried to seek an education, one that I had denied myself so long ago. But I wasnft allowed, for whatever reason of convenience the prison administration chose to invoke. I came to the realization that if I wanted an education, I had to do it myself. I began reading, writing, drawing, devising poetry and everything else to better myself.

Sadly, one of my childhood dreams was only achieved because of my incarceration. I had always wanted to write poetry, even dreaming of one day becoming a famous poet of my time! It took getting incarcerated before I would take steps to make this a reality.

But this dream has opened my eyes to something I would also never imagine--using poetry as a form of speaking out, reaching for the ears of the masses and teaching others about the chaos within these walls. Poetry became an instrument for me to voice the unseen, and to bring the plight of prisoners across America to light.

This tomb can imprison my body, but these walls will never invade my mind and steal me away from myself. If anything, they are allowing me to find out more and more about my true self, which hopefully is someone I may continue to reveal to you, and to the world.

This is my chosen path.

Son Tran, # 999372
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

A Mother's Love
By Son Tran

As I stare into my mother's eyes
and see her love for me,
my eyes get teary, my vision clouds.

I do everything I can
to fight back the tears--
I haven't cried since I don't know when,
but seeing the sadness in my mother
as she attempts to smile, just breaks my heart.

I try to reach out and comfort her,
to reassure her I will be okay--
but the glass window between us won't budge.

So, I just stand staring, feeling hopeless, with silent
tears running down my face.

An inside view

Today, I will take you inside the walls, inside the cells and inside the minds of those who sit on death row in Texas.

Living on death row and dealing can be a mental strain on a person. When the months become years, so many things you may call small and trivial start to build up. Then, of course, we have to deal with our appeals process. We have to deal with the burden we put on our families as well.

So there are times when we make choices to help ease the burden on our families. It is so hard to be away from those who love you, so hard to be away from your children.

People have asked me many times why someone would give up on their appeals. The answer is easy, but might be hard to understand. Some people come to death row and fight for their life, because they have family on the outside. But what happens when your family gives up on you? Or how would you feel if your family passed away and you had nobody?

You see so many people who had issues in their case, because of which their appeals should have overturned their conviction, or at least gotten them a life sentence. Then the courts deny the appeals, and your faith in the system begins to fade. There are a number of reasons why people feel the way they do.

I have been incarcerated for over 11 years. I do hope my few words give the reader the courage to write to someone on death row. You may have family or friends on death row. If you don't, look up a name and number, and write to someone. The reward of starting a new friendship can be a lifelong joy to you and your new friend.

Kevin Kincy, #999179
Polunsky Unit
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351